Policy paper

The Home Office response to the Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration’s report: An inspection of asylum casework (August 2020 to May 2021)

Published 18 November 2021

This was published under the 2019 to 2022 Johnson Conservative government

The Home Office thanks the Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration (ICIBI) for his report.

The department is grateful for the ICIBI’s assessment of asylum casework and the engagement with staff in the areas inspected, and for setting out the recommendations in his report. The Asylum & Protection (A&P) group is committed to improving every aspect of the asylum casework process and welcomes the ICIBI’s proposals on how to further improve, to ensure asylum claims are handled appropriately, in a way that takes account of the particular sensitivities and protection needs of those who claim asylum.

The Home Office is pleased the report identifies examples of good practice within the existing asylum system and recognises the scale of future changes needed to ensure it is best placed to deal with future challenges, and accepts the challenges presented.

The Home Office accepts eight of the recommendations in full, and partially accepts one.

The Home Office response to the recommendations:

The Home Office should:

1. Introduce, as a matter of urgency, a published service standard

1.1. Accepted.

1.2. We are working to reintroduce a service standard. There are changes being brought about by the New Plan for Immigration which impact on the way asylum claims are handled and these will be addressed as part of the process to develop a service standard.

2. Prioritise claims for unaccompanied asylum-seeking children (UASC), as per the Immigration Rules

2.1. Accepted.

2.2. In May 2021 – and since the ICIBI inspection – the Department established two dedicated case working Hubs for deciding children’s asylum claims. One in Solihull (with responsibility for Local Authorities in the Midlands, East of England and the South West of England), and one in Liverpool (with responsibility for Local Authorities in the North of England, Croydon and Kent). Both sites share responsibility for London and South East England Local Authorities.

2.3. Our aim is for the Hubs to establish improved focus on and greater control of cases to build expertise, identify efficiencies and provide a consistency of decision making (and quicker outcomes) for our customers. This includes a greater focus on deciding cases on the papers where there is sufficient evidence to do so.

2.4. We continue to work collaboratively with Local Authorities nationally on the remote interview process for Accompanied and Unaccompanied Asylum-Seeking Children and young people (AASC/UASC/YP) utilising digital interviewing video capabilities to complement in person interviews.

2.5. We are currently allocating more casework resource to UASC claims than the proportion of UASC intake and recruiting additional decision-makers who will be trained to process children’s asylum claims.

2.6. It is the case that many of the additional procedural protections that exist when processing children’s asylum claims will have an impact on the time taken to make final decisions in individual cases. This means that prioritisation does not necessarily reduce the overall case handling times.

3. Conduct a detailed and rapid analysis of every asylum claim awaiting an initial decision in the WIP by reviewing each decision making unit’s ‘Workflow Tracker’, focusing on identifying and removing erroneous casework barriers and identifying cases where a grant would be possible without an interview

3.1. Accepted.

3.2. Work is already underway to address this. While interviews were suspended due to COVID-19, we completed a case progression exercise of post-interview cases in the work in progress (WIP). We are now assessing all other cases in the current Initial Decision (ID) WIP to establish if there is a short- or long-term impediment to the case progressing and have developed an active review process of all cases in the current ID WIP. This has become a business as usual process and we will continue to actively review the flow of new asylum cases into the ID WIP.

3.3. We are also focussed on identifying and removing any erroneous or outdated barriers, identifying those that are able to be progressed without the need for an interview or where supplementary information is required before proceeding to a decision. We are also looking to create a single centralised case progression function as part of the National Workflow Team.

3.4. The Department will continue to make use of an existing provision within the Immigration Rules to omit an asylum interview under Paragraph 339NA, where the claimant is unfit or unable to be interviewed or where we are able to take a positive decision on the basis of evidence available.

4. Revisit recommendation four from the 2017 ICIBI inspection of asylum intake and casework, with specific reference to:

a) Screening - Ensure standardised training for all those conducting screening interviews across Immigration Enforcement, Border Force and UK Visas and Immigration, with a focus on identifying vulnerability and safeguarding

b) Substantive interviews and decisions - Design - in consultation with stakeholders – deliver and provide regular refresher training for all Decision Makers (DMs) and Technical Specialists (Tech Specs)

c) Quality assurance - Urgently finalise and implement training for Tech Specs and others who conduct quality assurance

4.1. Accepted.

Screening: Ensure standardised training for all those conducting screening interviews across Immigration Enforcement, Border Force and UK Visas and Immigration, with a focus on identifying vulnerability and safeguarding

4.2. This recommendation places a specific focus on standardising training for all those across the Home Office who conduct screening interviews in Immigration Enforcement (IE), Border Force and Asylum & Protection Group.

4.3. Asylum & Protection Group have set up a ‘Safeguarding Board’, to ensure that all elements of customer safeguarding/vulnerability are included and considered. This forum has contributed to ongoing improvements to the screening process, which is currently being developed collaboratively with UKVI, IE and Border Force.

4.4. Plans are in place to design a revised product for screening interviews to include changes to forms/questionnaires. After full review and testing we will include any training elements to deliver an improved, effective screening process. A pilot on the new screening process was planned for August, but due to unprecedented levels of intake, this has not been possible to mobilise and implement.

Substantive interviews and decisions: Design - in consultation with stakeholders – deliver and provide regular refresher training for all

4.5. We are committed to providing our teams with the necessary training and skill sets to ensure they can effectively carry out all aspects of their role and continue to develop. Asylum Operations has redeveloped the Decision-Making Foundation Training Programme (FTP) in consultation with staff and external stakeholders from July 2021 and will shortly be pursuing a schedule of refreshing the knowledge of existing colleagues using some of this new content. We hope to timetable redevelopment of the Interview ‘FTP’ from March 2022.

Quality assurance: Urgently finalise and implement training for Tech Specs and others who conduct quality assurance

4.6. Technical Specialists perform a vitally important role in supporting our decision makers, and customers. We recently introduced a training course to equip those in this role with the key skills they need with a focus on coaching and mentoring. This training is ready to be rolled out to future cohorts of Technical Specialists.

5. To address workplace culture, create a mandatory regular ‘face behind the case’ style training course focused on asylum

5.1. Accepted.

5.2. The ‘Face Behind the Case’ e-learning is already mandatory for all colleagues in Asylum & Protection and we are working to make this an annual requirement. We also have plans for an asylum-specific response to the “People not Cases” theme of the Windrush Lessons Learned Review, by developing a suite of workshops for all staff involved in the decision-making process.

6. To help improve retention, ensure there is clarity among DMs on opportunities for progression and, in consultation with DMs, conduct a review of InSight weekly targets

6.1. Accepted.

6.2. The transition to team-based working is underway and is being introduced to move away from a ‘one size fits all’ approach to managing performance. It represents a new way of managing goals and is intended to remove the pressure of individual targets. The department acknowledges this pressure as the primary factor for why our people move on so quickly from a decision-making role. Within this team-based approach, the future of InSight is yet to be determined and will form part of the review.

6.3. We are committed to developing an inclusive workforce and culture where people want to stay. We are also looking at how we provide development opportunities and career progression. Part of this will be having a visible progression campaign process. These changes are being communicated across the Asylum & Protection Group including monthly events held by the Director General, and within Asylum Operations via line manager briefings, staff engagement sessions, regular communication products and online hubs.

6.4. We have changed our recruitment process. Historically our job adverts limited applications to people with specific qualifications, but we now have an inclusive approach, seeking to recruit people from across the labour market. This new approach was adopted in the most recent recruitment campaign in July 2021 setting out exactly what the role involves, with videos of decision makers talking about ‘a day in the life of’. Two recruitment open events attracted more than 600 attendees and the campaign resulted in increased applications being received when compared to previous campaigns.

7. Introduce Calibre assurance assessments for screening interviews

7.1. Accepted.

7.2. Calibre is the quality assurance marking tool for use within Asylum Operations and the National Asylum Intake Unit for assessing screening interviews, substantive asylum interviews and asylum decisions against an agreed marking standard. This recommendation has been adopted immediately by Asylum & Protection Group and, as a result of this inspection, work has started with casework assurance leads in Borders and Enforcement to assess how best to implement Calibre to improve the assurance of screening interviews within their frontline operations.

8.1. Partially Accepted.

8.2. Each decision-making unit already records and analyses SPoE data. It is thereafter discussed at the monthly quality performance calls.

8.3. We have a timetable for review of SPoE requirements. Some SPoEs will remain mandatory because of legislative or policy requirements, such as outright refusals for UASCs and certified decisions.

8.4. Recent quality assurance data has shown an uplift in the number of cases assessed by a second pair of eyes before asylum decisions are served. However, it is felt there may be a limit to the consistency we can achieve in striving for 100%. We need to retain the flexibility to conduct retrospective checks if a particular issue had not arisen previously and to accommodate operational timing issues when working to a specific deadline. All decisions drafted by new decision makers are checked before they are served and with new staff volumes at present and more planned, the number of checks pre-service will increase overall. These checks are in addition to the random sampling from experienced decision makers. We will, however, look to develop a key performance indicator metric for the percentage of random checks on cases being conducted pre-service.

9. Expedite ‘Transformation’ plans specifically relating to the creation of a new digital case prioritisation and allocation tool, and the substantive interview appointment booking tool

9.1. Accepted.

9.2. The Department is developing, as part of wider transformation plans, a modern, digitally enabled platform to increase the efficiency of asylum decisions and enable Asylum Transformation. The Streamlined Digital Business (SDB) project encompasses four key workstreams: case prioritisation and allocation, appointment booking improvements, efficiency and delivering value for money for taxpayers.

9.3. In particular, the case prioritisation and allocation tool will enhance asylum workflow by providing the ability to prioritise and allocation cases, as per business rules. An appointment booking tool will provide a single, centralised, digital appointment booking service that tackles inefficiency, outdated information and over-reliance on Excel spreadsheets. A minimum viable product (MVP) delivery plan has been established to implement technical and design plans. The Home Office accepts that these tools are needed as quickly as possible and we plan in to deliver them as quickly as we can given the dependencies on other strategic IT programmes.